Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.

The GTC will ensure that for the first time teachers have a say in how their profession develops. As with other professions, teachers should have a major role in regulating their own profession. I am afraid to say that the amendment introduced in this House which gave the GTC power to remove teachers from its register on grounds of misconduct, including in child protection cases, was, in the Government's view, irresponsible. The public has a right to expect a coherent and rigorous barring system which covers all people--not just teachers--who have access to children across maintained schools, independent schools and FE colleges. It would have been misguided and potentially dangerous to fragment the child protection system by passing responsibility for cases involving teachers to the GTC.

This Government attach the utmost importance to child protection. My honourable friend Alun Michael, Minister of State at the Home Office, announced on 4th June that we are establishing an inter-department review of measures aimed at preventing unsuitable people from working with children. Among other things, the review will be looking at whether it should be made a criminal offence for persons who have been convicted of crimes involving children to work with children in any setting. I believe this is the right way forward and that we should not therefore pass responsibilities for child protection to the GTC at the present time.

We have, however, carefully considered how we might give the GTC a significant and responsible role in regulating the profession. We have reflected on the extremely constructive proposals put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and have sought to implement his suggestions in full. In another place, we introduced

23 Jun 1998 : Column 123

a new clause and a new schedule--which are covered by Amendments Nos. 14 and 142--which provide for the GTC to determine disciplinary cases which involve unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence.

More than half of the cases dealt with by the department's teachers' misconduct team are clearly about child protection and they account for some three-quarters of the barring of restriction orders on teachers. These cases will remain with the Secretary of State, although he will take advice from the GTC on cases involving registered teachers.

Many of the other cases have little or no child protection dimension to them. They involve such matters as teachers making false claims about their qualifications; misappropriating school funds; or, I am afraid, helping pupils to cheat in exams. Those cases will be dealt with by the GTC.

A small proportion of cases may not be so easily classified. For example, there may be cases of serious offences which may not involve children directly but in which the offending behaviour may indicate a possible risk to the safety or welfare of children. Examples are cases of serious violence against adults or dealing in drugs.

We intend that those cases will be referred initially to the Secretary of State to consider whether a case raises issues of child protection and to decide whether he should deal with that case or whether it should be more properly considered by the GTC. Paragraphs 1(4) and 1(5) of the new schedule allow for regulations to define the respective responsibilities of the GTC and the Secretary of State in more detail. Our primary concern in doing so will be to make absolutely sure that no case can ever slip between the cracks.

Amendment No. 26 ensures that employers are to be required to report cases when someone has been dismissed on grounds of misconduct, incompetence or ill-health or where a person has resigned in circumstances where dismissal might have been considered.

We have accepted, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, proposed, that the GTC should be able to strike teachers off the register for serious professional incompetence as well as unacceptable professional misconduct. That corresponds with the powers of most other professional bodies such as the General Medical Council. Those new powers for the GTC will not cut across the procedure agreed last year with the employers and the teaching unions for handling incompetence in teachers. That procedure which is now being implemented in schools provides for incompetent teachers to be removed from a classroom within two terms or, in extreme cases, within four weeks.

We intend that the GTC's role will only come into play only after the teacher has been dismissed or has resigned to avoid dismissal. The GTC will then consider the case and decide whether the incompetence demonstrated is so serious that it should be taken forward with a view to striking the teacher off the register or placing conditions on his or her practice as a teacher.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 124

Paragraphs 2 to 5 of the new schedule set out the range of sanctions which will be open to the council. They are similar to those available to other professional bodies. The council will have a graded range of sanctions for responding to misconduct or incompetence of differing severity. The schedule will allow the GTC to issue a reprimand; to attach conditions to a teacher's registration; to suspend that registration for a period of up to two years; or to strike a teacher off its register.

People aggrieved by a disciplinary decision of the GTC will have a right of appeal to the High Court, under paragraph 6 of the schedule. That is similar to the appeal mechanism for other professional bodies, including the GTC for Scotland where appeals are made to the Court of Session. I am advised that since the GTC for Scotland was established in 1966, there have been only two appeals, so we envisage therefore that the number of appeals will be small.

It is important that the GTC has open and transparent procedures for dealing with any disciplinary cases and paragraph 1 of the schedule allows such matters to be set out in regulations. Paragraph 7 of the schedule allows, among other incidental and supplementary provision, for employers to be bound by the council's disciplinary orders and for any order to have common currency across England and Wales, whether made by the GTC for England or the GTC for Wales.

Those powers will provide the GTC with a full and substantial role in regulating the teaching profession. Our approach was welcomed in the other place and, I believe, will be welcomed by teachers and the wider public. For the first time, teachers will take a major role in regulating their own profession.

Amendment No. 13 is also closely linked with the new schedule. We debated at earlier stages whether the council ought to have a statutory power or duty to issue a code of conduct or practice for registered teachers. We were not, at the time, convinced that we should legislate for this, but I believe it is now appropriate to do so given the GTC's enhanced disciplinary role. None the less, this will be an area where the Government and the council will wish to tread carefully as there is not necessarily a consensus within the profession that such a code would be a positive step. We shall watch progress with some interest north of the Border, where the GTC for Scotland has issued a draft code for consultation.

Amendments Nos. 18 to 24 apply the same proposals to Wales. Child protection cases will continue to be determined by the Secretary of State or the national assembly, with professional misconduct and serious incompetence dealt with by the GTC for Wales.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 6 and 15 are consequential amendments which remove the wider powers accorded to the GTC by this House at Third Reading and reinstate the advisory role we envisage in these areas. Amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 133 are all minor technical amendments linked to the GTC's new disciplinary powers.

Amendments Nos 7 to 10 clarify and tighten up the eligibility requirements for registration with the general teaching council. We have sought to ensure that, whenever a person is legally prevented from practising as a teacher, that should also render him or her ineligible for

23 Jun 1998 : Column 125

registration. In particular, we have now made ineligible any person barred from teaching under legislation governing independent schools; and made sure that any person de-registered by the GTCs for Scotland and Northern Ireland should not be eligible for registration in England or Wales.

Amendment No. 17 removes the need for stamp duty to be paid if any assets are transferred from a GTC for England and Wales to a new GTC for Wales. This provision should not be needed, as my ministerial colleagues at the Welsh Office have announced that they intend to establish a GTC for Wales from the outset.

The remaining amendments in this group are technical amendments. Amendments Nos. 25 and 134 introduce a single definition of employer/employment at the end of the Bill rather than having a number of repetitive references throughout the GTC clauses. Amendment No. 16 removes unnecessary wording, as it is clear that the GTC will be holding a register of teachers. I commend this group of amendments to the House.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2---(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Clause 3, page 3, line 22, at end insert--

("(za) standards of teaching;
(zb) standards of conduct for teachers;").

Page 3, line 25, leave out ("and").


Page 3, line 26, at end insert ("; and

(d) medical fitness to teach.").

Page 3, line 30, at end insert--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page